Never once did they point the finger. Instead, I knew I had the support of every individual on the team including my coach, Eduardo Rincon, and trainer, Lisa Bewley.
After finally seeing a neurosurgeon, it became clear. With my bone slippage increasing to a Grade 4 (Grade 5 is the worst), I faced possible permanent nerve damage and surgery was my only option if I wanted to live a life without pain.
My future in tennis was now unknown.
On July 14, 2015, I went into the operating room for fusion of the two vertebrae to align my spine. The surgery was supposed to last three hours. Mine took eight.
The road to recovery was grueling -- 100 days in a back brace with absolutely no twisting and bending. That’s pretty hard for a guy that was used to moving 24/7. Along the way, I faced a slippage of the fusion but luckily the fusion began to take hold. I began basic rehab once out of the back brace. Miraculously, my doctor cleared me to start hitting again just six months after my surgery.
Remember how I mentioned that tennis can be a lonely sport?
Well, thanks to my KSU team I never felt I was fighting this battle alone. Lisa Bewley came to every doctor’s appointment and my coach and teammates encouraged me to keep striving each day to rebuild my body. No one ever made me feel like dead weight, they just continued to push me towards recovery.
Coach Rincon, and his daughters Ana Maria and Kathryn Cristina, pay Jake a visit following his surgery.
I worked my entire junior year to regain my tennis game and had someone assisting me every step of the way. I had the opportunity to still travel to some of the matches and contribute in other ways (i.e. water boy).
When I stepped on the court to play doubles on this past September, it marked the first time in more than 500 days that I played a competitive match for my Owls.
Ultimately, I learned a lot throughout the hardship. I believe I have come out a much stronger individual and teammate. I am more thankful than ever to be back on the tennis court and feeling 100%.
I still receive motivation from my teammates and I believe we have all gained a greater level of respect for each other.